What's the big fracking deal? Toxic spills.
By Alan Septoff
September 25, 2009
While the natural gas industry maintains that stronger regulations aren't needed, its track record continues to prove otherwise.
"A spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirmed that Cabot Oil & Gas, who is engaging in extensive drilling operations in the small community, spilled "hundreds of gallons" of the volatile chemical mixture Tuesday morning.
It is the same chemical - one that can cause skin cancer and a malady of other health issues - that spewed out of a pipe, twice, last Wednesday - amounting to more than 8,000 gallons of the harmful fluid entering the environment.
It can cause headache, dizziness, or other central nervous system effects, according to the material safety data sheet obtained by The Wayne Independent. Inhalation may "cause respiratory irritation ... chemical pneumonia ... slurred speech, giddiness and unconsciousness."
Although these are surface spills, they still highlight the need for federal regulation of drilling in two ways.
First, it shows why we need full disclosure of fracking chemicals. Although in this case it seems that the community was able to determine many of the health risks associated with the spill -- there are cases where the immediate risks were unknown until it was too late, and the long-term risks of repeated exposure to chemicals are sometimes never studied. What constitutes disclosure should not be left up to the companies.
Second, it shows that companies require close regulatory supervision. There may be exemplary drilling companies who would never need regulation. But those are not the companies for whom regulations are written. It's the actors who, absent the threat of regulatory supervision and sanction, allow communities and the environment to bear the costs of drilling so that they can reap greater profits.
And that seems to be the case with what happened in Dimock. Three spills from the same source should never happen.
According the release civil penalties (a fine) may be assessed. Unless they DO assess a hefty fine, DEP will signal to the drilling industry that fines are just the cost of the status quo -- as opposed to signaling that the status quo (the type of behavior that led to these spills) must change.
UPDATE II: PA DEP orders Cabot to cease operations in Susequehanna County.